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A man to be proud of
I didnt want to open the long, white envelope from the chief clerk of the state House of Representatives because I knew what was in it.
Notification of the death of yet another member of the Legislature, where I covered sessions for over 30 years, retiring in 1993 to write the column alone.
I had already received such letters last year about the deaths of Reps. John OBrien, Eugene Prince, Don Eldridge, Dr. Robert Randall, Floyd Conway, John S. Murray and David Roderick. Similar letters came from the Senate informing me of the passing of Sens. Walter B. Williams, Jack Metcalf, Bob Oke, Nat Washington, Murray and Prince, who served in both houses.
All of these men, Democrats and Republicans, were friends of mine, but I admit nothing touched my heart so much as the latest death, that of Paul Conner of Sequim, because he was the only legislator I ever knew who was raised by his constituents.
He wasnt just a hometown boy. He was the hometown boy of the biggest city in the 24th district, Port Angeles. The people of Port Angeles raised him. They fed him and housed him because there was no orphanage to do that, so the whole community became the orphanage.
Not that Conner was an orphan. He had a mother who lived in the same community as he did some of the time, but whom he didnt meet, after she gave birth to him, until he was 15. He had a father who was in the Army and left to go serve in the Philippines and who met his son for the first time when Conner was 13. Neither meeting worked out for a bitter youngster.
My mothers mother raised me for awhile, Conner told me. My dads folks had me for a few years, but different people took me in. Other kids had a home and I didnt. Frequently, after football or baseball practice, when the coach would say its time to go home, Id just stand there. One of the other kids would take me home with him and hide me under the house until he could sneak some food down to me. Houses were up in the air then so you could get underneath. That was before basements. Id wait there. Sometimes the friend would get caught doing his good deed and his parents would come down and bring Conner upstairs and feed him at the table. He lived with one woman on a farm where he fed the calves, milked 16 cows morning and night and separated the milk. It seemed like the thing to do in those days, he said. The people were good to me. I always had new overalls, shoes and shirts. I was lucky.
Conner also was grateful. He wrote down the names of everybody who ever did anything for him. Then at Christmas, he would take the money hed earn mowing lawns, caddying and working as a punk whistle in the woods and send his benefactors cards. The names were on the list for life and the List grew to 12,000 before Conners wife finally convinced him they couldnt afford it any more, what with raising five children.
But hes been lucky. He survived two years in the Navy during World War II, and, while longshoring, a fall 35 feet down a hatch, landing on his head.
The people of Port Angeles and environs sent him to the Legislature in 1959 and back again every election to House or Senate until he retired in 1992. He chaired important committees, such as Transportation, and was known for his willingness to help anyone who needed a friend. He paid the funeral expenses of the parents who deserted him.
Paul Conner died at 83, a near lifetime resident of the city that took an unwanted boy to its bosom and raised him into a man to be proud of.
Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.